October 19, 2017

Health Canada estimates that in 2016, there were over 2,458 opioid-related deaths in the country, amounting to approximately 7 deaths per day. In response to this opioid overdose epidemic, the federal House of Commons Standing Committee on Health recommended, among other things, that the government declare a national public health emergency. The rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in Canada has also generated major concern among provincial and municipal governments, medical professionals, human rights advocates, and workplace parties. For employers and unions, the opioid crisis raises safety and accommodation issues related to the following: opioid abuse, a greater risk of accidental exposure in the workplace, and the potential for psychological harm to employees as a result of witnessing an overdose or its aftermath. In this audio conference, a medical expert and seasoned counsel will discuss the ramifications of the opioid crisis for Canadian workplaces, including:

  • Opioid use in Canada: How common is the use of prescription opioids in Canada? How common is the misuse or non-medical use of opioids? Why might a doctor prescribe opioid medication for a patient? What are the potential side effects of using opioids? What are the risks of opioid abuse? How has the emergence of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids intensified these risks? Why do many experts believe Canada is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis?
  • Protecting employees: What are an employer’s legal obligations to protect its employees from exposure to fentanyl and its analogues in the workplace? What types of workplaces are most vulnerable to exposure of this nature? What are the risks for employees who come into contact with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids on the job? What training and other best practices should employers and unions consider to prepare for accidental exposure? What kind of protective gear is appropriate? Do employers have an obligation to provide employees with antidotes to fentanyl?
  • Supporting first responders: In addition to the risk of fentanyl exposure, what challenges has the opioid crisis raised for first responders? What should employers and unions do to protect the mental health of workers who experience crises or traumatic events at work? How should employers and unions respond if they suspect that one of their employees is experiencing emotional distress or PTSD?
  • Accommodation: What safety hazards might be posed by prescription opioid use on or off the job? Does a prescription for opioid use entitle an employee to be impaired at work? How is impairment measured? Why have some employers decided to provide benefit coverage for medical marijuana in an effort to discourage opioid prescriptions? In general, what are an employer’s obligations towards an employee with an opioid dependency or addiction in the accommodation process? Does the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Stewart v. Elk Valley alter the employer’s duty to accommodate? What kinds of accommodations are typically found appropriate for an employee with a substance dependency? At what point may accommodative measures give rise to undue hardship?